How We Know Our Own Minds: Mindreading and Metacognition

An article by an eminent philosopher promises to stir up controversy about introspection (metacognition) and understanding the mental states of others (mindreading), on the one hand, and autism and schizophrenia on the other.

About the Article on Knowing Our Own Minds

As a ‘BBS Associate’ — part of an international community of authors, referees and commentators drawn upon by the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences — I recently received this fascinating abstract by eminent philosopher Peter Carruthers:

ABSTRACT: Four different accounts of the relationship between third-person mindreading and first-person metacognition are compared and evaluated. While three of them endorse the existence of introspection for propositional attitudes, the fourth (defended here) claims that our knowledge of our own attitudes results from turning our mindreading capacities upon ourselves. Section 1 introduces the four accounts. Section 2 develops the “mindreading is prior” model in more detail, showing how it predicts introspection for perceptual and quasi-perceptual (e.g. imagistic) mental events while claiming that metacognitive access to our own attitudes always results from swift unconscious self-interpretation. It also considers the model’s relationship to the expression of attitudes in speech. Section 3 argues that the commonsense belief in the existence of introspection should be given no weight. Section 4 argues briefly that data from childhood development are of no help in resolving this debate. Section 5 considers the evolutionary claims to which the different accounts are committed, and argues that the three introspective views make predictions that aren’t borne out by the data. Section 6 examines the extensive evidence that people often confabulate when self-attributing attitudes. Section 7 considers “two systems” accounts of human thinking and reasoning, arguing that although there are inrospectable events within System 2, there are no introspectable attitudes. Section 8 examines alleged evidence of “unsymbolized thinking”. Section 9 considers the claim that schizophrenia exhibits a dissociation between mindreading and metacognition. Finally, Section 10 evaluates the claim that autism presents a dissociation in the opposite direction, of metacognition without mindreading.

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The paper has been selected as a target article for open peer commentary at the prestigious journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the foremost print publications in its field. If you’d like to have a look at the full text of the paper, it’s available here: Carruthers Preprint on Knowing Our Own Minds.

The journal employs a fairly unique quality-control system whereby commentaries are accepted only from people called ‘BBS Associates’ or those nominated by BBS Associates; and to be eligible to become a BBS Associate, you must either have had work previously accepted for the journal (or refereed for them), or been nominated by someone who has. As a BBS Associate myself since publishing with them in the late 90s, I’m happy to nominate others to write commentary for the article. So if you have relevant expertise in this area, and no other BBS Associate is available to you, please drop me a note via the site’s contact page and let me know a bit about your background and what you would like to contribute via published commentary.

About the Journal

Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) is an international, interdisciplinary journal providing Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences. Commentators must be BBS Associates, or suggested by a BBS Associate. If you are not a BBS Associate, please follow the instructions linked below:

http://www.bbsonline.org/Instructions/associnst.html

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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